The US Air Force has confirmed that a number of its advanced F-22 Raptor fighter jets sustained damage as Hurricane Michael ploughed through a military base in the state of Florida.
Hurricane Michael, the strongest storm to make landfall in the continental US in almost half a century, hit the the Tyndall Air Force Base on its way Thursday.
Air Force spokeswoman Ann Stefanek told Defense News that all hangars housing the $475 million aircraft were damaged but it was not clear to what extent.
“We anticipate the aircraft parked inside may be damaged as well, but we won’t know the extent until our crews can safely enter those hangars and make an assessment,” Stefanek said.
The MSNBC stated that of the 55 Raptors stationed at Tyndall, 33 had been moved out of the base prior to the hurricane’s arrival while 22 still remained there.
The Air Force had yet to reveal the number of the damaged aircraft and their types.
However, the Facebook community Air Force Forum page, wrote that at least eight F-22s, parked in the supposedly hurricane-proof hangars, had sustained significant damage in the hurricane.
Photos shared on social media also showed a damaged QF-16 aerial target aircraft with its nose cone sheared off.
One source told Defense News website that at least 10 aircraft, including some parked outside the shelters, were severely damaged.
“We anticipate the aircraft parked inside may be damaged as well,” Air Force spokeswoman Major Malinda Singleton said. “But we won’t know the extent until our crews can safely enter those hangars and make an assessment.”
While the USAF takes great pride in its F-22 Raptor fleet, the stealth fighter has gained notoriety for being fragile and extremely difficult to maintain.
Recent official assessments have found that only 49 percent of the 187-strong fleet was ready to fly at any given time, the lowest availability figure for all US combat aircraft.
Lockheed Martin stopped producing F-22s in 2010 because of high costs and dropped the project entirely in favor of the controversial F-35 Joint Strike Fighter program.
Ironically, the F-35 grew to become the world’s most expensive weapons project and missed several deadlines due to complex issues.
The US military grounded all of its flying F-35s last week after one of the jets crashed and went up in flames near a Marine Corps base in North Carolina.